Monday, May 24, 2021

Quote from Sir William Ashley. (1925)

From the March 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “By capital the business world has always meant—whatever the economists may have tried to mean—wealth which its owner can employ for the purpose of gain ; and by investment we meant partly the external, or business, fact that there really exist openings for the use of wealth in directions which will bring an income or ‘revenue’ over and above the return of the sum employed ; and partly the internal, or psychological, fact that its owners are actually desirous of using it in such directions.”

New Publications: Here is Your Opportunity! (1925)

Party News from the March 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are continuously asked why we don’t publish new pamphlets or re-publish old ones that are out of print. Our answer has been to point to that ever-pressing problem of finance. A party like ours, depending upon its members for financial support and faced with the inevitable poverty of a working-class membership—our party is forced to curb its publishing activity within very narrow limits. Such a valuable and much needed publication as our party pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion,” is urgently required at a low price, and its re-publication in that form would find a ready sale. It would have been re-issued long ago had sufficient funds come in.

Amongst other publications very much needed we have in view a pamphlet on the Principles of Socialism. The enormous amount of rubbish printed in the name of Socialism in recent years, with its confusing effect on the workers’ minds makes the scientific and revolutionary pronouncements of The Socialist Party an urgent necessity. We have, therefore, opened a fund called “A New Publications Fund,” which will be reserved for the purpose of new publications. We invite members and sympathisers immediately to send in donations marked for that fund. If you cannot afford much send in the little you can. If the readers of the Socialist Standard who appreciate the soundness of our party position will hurry along their contributions to the fund we can rapidly get to work.

We get letters of appreciation of our literature from all over the world. Here is your opportunity to put your appreciation into a postal order and send it along.
The Editorial Committee




Answers to correspondents. (1925)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marxengelian (Hackney) asks: °Does the Army and Navy add any value to the wealth produced under the system where they are socially necessary?”

Answer: No. The Army and Navy are maintained out of the surplus value taken from the producers. The Army and Navy are necessary to the ruling class to maintain their domination. The armed forces are not required in the production of exchange values. Value is created in the production and socially necessary transportation of wealth. In this sphere the armed forces do not function.
Ed. Com.

Socialism and the so-called “middle class”. - Part 2 (1925)

From the February 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from January issue.)

The property holdings of the “middle class,” unlike those of the capitalist, do not free their possessors from worry, and do not give them command over the lives and destinies of other men. They represent deductions from present income for future needs; they are therefore not capital in the sense of being “wealth used for the purpose of gain” (the definition of capital used by a Conservative, Sir William Ashley), the receipt of a return on them being only incidental, and not the object of their existence. Unlike Topsy, they have not “just growed.” On the contrary, these reserves, for the future of themselves and their children, can only be accumulated by deliberate and self-denying effort. Failure to make such saving against the future is followed by a fall to a lower level of life, either in this or the succeeding generation. The effort to retain their “nest egg” occupies so large a part of their lives that it becomes the basis of the political philosophy of the more highly paid workers, and, like the bird in the Mediaeval romance, they are so busy sitting tight on their eggs so that they shall not be stolen, that they do not see they are being robbed by the opening of the nest from below. To secure their savings from “predatory Socialists” who are supposed to have raiding designs on their women and children, they hitch their wagon to capitalism. But what security does capitalism offer even for their savings ?

Savings can be held in one of the following forms—in currency or in bank balances which represent claims to a definite amount of currency, in government bonds, or in titles to property of various kinds, such as title deeds of land, shares in industrial and commercial undertakings, etc. Of the two main kinds of shares, debentures represent a claim to a fixed annual interest and the repayment of a definite sum of money. Therefore debentures, government bonds, currency holdings, and bank balances can be lumped together as being holdings of money, and it follows that the value of these holdings depends on “the value” of money. But there is no guarantee under capitalism that the value of money measured in the commodities it will purchase for its possessor will remain constant, or even that it will fluctuate only within narrow limits. Wherever there has been money economy there have been violent fluctuations. (For an example in the Ancient World, see Gibbons’ “Decline and Fall,” Chapter 11.) The recent happenings in Europe provide an instructive illustration of the lack of security in all currency holdings. In Germany the value of money has fallen to such a degree that the internal debt has been wiped out. In France pre-war holdings of Government Stock have lost seven-eighths of their real value; in Italy, eleven-twelfths; and in England, one half.
  “Throughout the Continent pre-war savings of the middle class, so far as they were invested in bonds, mortgages, or bank deposits, have been largely or entirely wiped out” (“A Tract on Monetary Reform,” J. M. Keynes, page 16).
Mr. Keynes adds : 
  “What was deemed most secure has proved least so. He who neither spent nor ‘speculated,’ who made ‘proper provision for his family,’ who sang hymns to security and observed most straightly the morals of the edified, and the respectable injunctions of the worldly-wise—he, indeed, who gave fewer pledges to Fortune, has yet suffered her heaviest visitations” (page 17). 
And this lack of security proceeds not from natural causes such as make uncertain the life of the savage—that is, famines, plagues, earthquakes, floods, etc.—but from a defect in the organisation of society based as it is on money economy. If it be argued that these fluctuations were the product of war, which is an abnormal condition, it need only be pointed out that where there is production for profit there will be struggles for markets and raw materials, and where there is a clash of interests there is an ever-present danger of war. And, moreover, price fluctuations before the war were considerable over a period of years. Here it is sufficient to note (see Keynes) that between 1896 and 1914 the capital “value of the annuity of any investor in Consols fell by about one-third, and the purchasing power of his income from them by about the same amount.” Consols are chosen as representing a class of investment free from ordinary speculative risks of trade, and therefore affording the best index to changes of the kind we are here concerned with.

There is, then, no permanent security in that class of savings which represent titles to certain sums of money. Titles to land and ordinary shares remain to be dealt with. But, first, two possible criticisms must be anticipated.

Economic Insecurity.
It may be objected that lack of security affects the capitalist as well as the small saver. It certainly does, but as all authorities admit, not nearly to the same extent. The capitalists as a class are not ruined by changes in the value of money, though some individual members may be. Their economic domination is not ended by fluctuating prices, any more than the subjection of the workers is lessened by either stable or changing prices. This is because capitalists hold goods, factories, mines, and commodities of all kinds, and not money, which is only a means to the obtaining of goods. To quote Keynes again : “Small savers have most to lose by currency depreciation” (page 66). But even if it were true that the capitalists are also insecure, this would not disprove our contention that capitalism fails to provide security for the “middle class,” and it would be additional evidence of the decay of the system.

The other objection which might be raised is that there could never be complete security under any system. This is obviously true as regards natural catastrophes like plagues, crop failures, earthquakes, etc., whose effects we can at present not guard against entirely, but it has no bearing on the kind of insecurity which is an effect of capitalism and which can be removed with capitalism.

Now let us consider titles to land. This kind of “middle class” property needs little attention, because it hardly exists. Some own their own houses, and a few own other houses as well as the one in which they live. Those that are held on lease are not a form of permanent revenue, thus only freehold house property remains, and the capital and rental values of this are by no means certain. The decay of industry in a particular neighbourhood may completely destroy the value of house property in it. Even since the war, and in spite of the Rents Restriction Acts, there have been local falls of the value of house property, and before the war fluctuation in value of house property was notorious.

As for ordinary shares, they are a type of investment not in favour with those people now under discussion. They play for safety and avoid investing in industrial shares whose fluctuations are so wide and unpredictable. Only the favoured few experienced persons “in the know” are aware of impending movements by which money can be made, and they are not members of the so-called “middle class,” whose savings, moreover, are not large enough to be widely distributed so as to minimise the risk of loss. The recent happenings in Dunlops will serve to drive home our point. Adverse trading conditions resulting in a loss of ten and a half million pounds have involved the reduction of the ordinary £1 shares to 6s. 8d. each. Yet Dunlops was regarded as one of the safest companies in that trade. Crosse and Blackwell’s, and Burberry’s, other perfectly “safe” concerns, have had to carry through similar re-organisation schemes.

There is certainly no security for small property ; is there any more security attaching to the employment of the “middle class”? The following London banks have collapsed since the war, and many of the staff are still looking for work, to be met always with the reply, even where vacancies need to be filled, younger men or boys will do:

Sir Robert McGrigors, Bart., and Sons; Hannevigs Bank Ltd. ; Alliance Bank of Simla, Ltd. ; Boulton Brothers. If it be said that these were not first-class firms, that objection cannot be raised against the Austrian Discount Bank, of Vienna, or against the Banco Disconto in Italy, or Alperin, Kisch, and Schiff, of New York—all of them first-class, old-established banks or banking companies which have recently failed. Shipping and insurance companies which have failed during the last few years and thrown thousands of men out of employment are too numerous to mention. Recall the affair of Bevan. He was a financier who gambled in a way that his kind do every day. But he was unlucky, and went to gaol, and an associated firm, the oldest-established stockbrokers in the City, was ruined. As a result, clerks of over forty years’ service found themselves suddenly out of a job.

As Mr. R. Tawney puts it (“Acquisitive Society,” page 204): The brain workers, like the manual workers, find that
  “Their tenure of their posts is sometimes highly insecure. Their opportunities for promotion may be few and distributed with a singular capriciousness. They see the prizes of industry awarded by favouritism, or by the nepotism which results in the head of a business unloading upon it a family of sons whom it would be economical to pay to keep out of it, and which, indignantly denounced on the rare occasions on which it occurs in the public service, is so much the rule in private industry that no one even questions its propriety.”
Enough has been written to show that there is no section of the working class without its problem of unemployment, and that the problem is the same for the whole class without distinction of sex or colour of skin or working coat. The problem, moreover, is not one of mere numbers. To reduce the number, as the Labour Party and other capitalist quacks seek to do, does not solve the problem. It is an effect of the social system that it cannot provide its members with the opportunity to labour in support of themselves. The only guarantee the present system gives is that certain privileged members shall be able to live in sumptuous idleness on the backs of their fellows. They do this by exploiting those they employ, and the latter, if alive to their own interest, would end the system which is based on exploitation.

The Inefficiency of Capitalism.
If the “middle class” are more foolish than the so-called manual workers, and instead of looking at social problems from the point of view of their own self-interest they wish to measure everything according to the standards set by the ruling class, they must still condemn the present system because it is grossly inefficient.

Is it efficient to have millions of workers seeking employment while the machinery of production is standing idle? Is it efficient to put checks on Nature because she yields too generously of her bounty? And yet this is what happens in the production of rubber, tea, jute, etc. Is it efficient to have trawlers dumping cargoes of fish into the sea in order to keep prices up? Is it efficient to fatten and pamper a select and useless few while half the people are on the verge of starvation? Is it efficient to be doing jobs which are not necessary for the ordering and use of society? Yet nearly the whole of the clerical profession are thus occupied. What need of insurance clerks in a world where risks are borne by society instead of by a special section with a view to making a profit. Solicitors’ clerks, what need of them except to haggle over private property? Abolish money economy, and what a reserve labour is made available for production from the ranks of the bank staffs. Whichever way you look at it, this system is rotten, inefficient, and destructive of the best potentialities in man. Social progress demands its overthrow, a task which only the working class can perform. The workers alone can break the chains that bind them, and replace a class system based on production for profit by a classless system producing for use. Chains are still chains though they are gilded, and the “middle class” being in reality merely a section of the workers, must join with the rest of their class in breaking those chains.
A. L. T.

(Conclusion.)

Blogger's Note:
'A.L.T.' could have been Albert L. Torr, who joined the Manchester Branch of the SPGB in October 1916 (alongside a William Torr). It makes sense that a bank clerk,  a 'brain-worker', would seek the anonymity of a pen-name in the pages of the Socialist Standard.

Replies to correspondents. (1925)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Answer to G. T. Foster.

Your second letter takes us no further than your first one, and still consists of unsupported assertions.

Seeing, feeling, and other modes of consciousness, apart from something that sees, feels, or is conscious, is unthinkable to the human being. Your “Therefore” is thus totally unwarranted and illogical. Moreover, your sentence contains a fallacy. The brain is apprehended by the various modes of consciousness, but is clearly not in them. You make the usual mistake of the metaphysical idealist of confusing the state or mode of apprehension with the thing causing that state. Both Berkeley, hampered, it is true, by the limited knowledge of his time, and Bergson, with his empty, facile phrases, make the same blunder. This applies also to your last paragraph, for the “perceiving consciousness” is merely a mode of something having consciousness.

The answer to your question is now obvious. No one has ever known of a brain in anyone’s mind, but only as something apprehended by a mind.

Equally baseless is your remark that mind “would have to be known by a knower, or be absolutely unknowable.” Where is your evidence that it cannot “be known by a knower”? The metaphysicians you are so fond of continually use the word “self-conscious” or self-knowing; that is, according to your own definition, “the knower knowing.” But all this chatter about things being “unknowable” is, as Dr. Maudsley sarcastically says, like “a bluebottle fly calling its extra-relational the unbuzzable.”

Further contradiction appears in your next paragraph, where you admit our experiences are knowledge. Then so far as our experience—personal and racial—goes, we do know. Every year—nay, every day, every hour—sees our experiences continually increasing. That is to say, our knowledge is continually increasing, and neither you nor anyone else can set a limit to the increase of experiences while human beings exist.
Editorial Committee.

New Publications: Here is Your Opportunity! (1925)

Party News from the February 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are continuously asked why we don’t publish new pamphlets or re-publish old ones that are out of print. Our answer has been to point to that ever-pressing problem of finance. A party like ours, depending upon its members for financial support and faced with the inevitable poverty of a working-class membership—our party is forced to curb its publishing activity within very narrow limits. Such a valuable and much needed publication as our party pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion,” is urgently required at a low price, and its re-publication in that form would find a ready sale. It would have been re-issued long ago had sufficient funds come in.

Amongst other publications very much needed we have in view a pamphlet on the Principles of Socialism. The enormous amount of rubbish printed in the name of Socialism in recent years, with its confusing effect on the workers’ minds makes the scientific and revolutionary pronouncements of The Socialist Party an urgent necessity. We have, therefore, opened a fund called “A New Publications Fund,” which will be reserved for the purpose of new publications. We invite members and sympathisers immediately to send in donations marked for that fund. If you cannot afford much send in the little you can. If the readers of the Socialist Standard who appreciate the soundness of our party position will hurry along their contributions to the fund we can rapidly get to work.

We get letters of appreciation of our literature from all over the world. Here is your opportunity to put your appreciation into a postal order and send it along.
The Editorial Committee

The economics of social amusement. - Part 2 (1925)

From the February 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard


PART II.

To-day, under the fully ripened rule of capitalist production, the public amusements are in close organic relation with existing social conditions, just as was the case in previous historical periods.

All the institutions of entertainment and recreation—including the public games, football, baseball, boxing, and horse racing—are thoroughly organised on a capitalist basis. They are owned and controlled by private property owners with no other object in the main than financial profit. To-day the professional player who once occupied but a minor rĂ´le now covers practically the whole field. The great majority of the players both in the theatres and in the sports are wage-workers. Exploitation and oppression prevails in the production of our most thoroughly enjoyable entertainments just as in any other sphere of industry. The means of amusement have become largely standardised “factory products” and as dependent uppn the fluctuations of supply and demand as any other commodities.

As in other industrial fields, science and machinery have been applied to the production of amusement, especially in the mechanical devices, rides and so on, of the Pleasure Park and in the cinema. The enormous growth and popularity of motion-pictures is one of the striking phenomena of our times. It has become of all forms of popular amusement the one peculiarly characteristic of the latest phase of industrialism; In the cinema industry, which is claimed as the third in point of size in the United States, vast quantities of capital have been invested. It is organised internationally and the market for its products is the whole world.

* * *

Summing up the above, then, we may say that the public amusements under capitalism have lost all trace of their once intimate connection with social tradition, with communal, religious, or political life. We no longer attend the dance, the games, or the theatre as a rite, as a religious duty, or as a social function. The bourgeoisie of to-day have their own strictly class amusements and relaxations, and these to some extent retain social, and even political, characteristics. But the great popular games and entertainments with which we are here concerned are purely commercial in their methods and aims, and when an individual desires diversion and can pay for it he goes to the place where it is for sale and buys as much as he can afford or cares for.

Nevertheless, the social amusements occupy a place of greater prominence than possibly at any time in the past, and certainly they absorb the permanent labours of a far larger proportion of the population and cater for an immensely greater audience. The primary organisations for amusement are now permanent instead of being temporary and periodic. Every large city has its scores, its hundreds, or its thousands of theatres and cinema-houses—many open every day in the year. Here, then, is proof that, in spite of having shed their traditional character, these institutions draw their vitality from some deep social necessity and are a response to an insistent social demand.

Let us consider the manner of life of the masses of the people in modern communities. The great majority are workers engaged in the production and distribution of wealth. Destitute of property, they sell their natural energy to the owners of capital. They have no control over their labour and no interest in its product. The peasant, even when a tenant, has an interest in the land and its products that is unknown to the industrial worker. In the highly organised spheres of production the labour of the workers is machine-regulated to a degree of monotony never before known. The machine has ousted the craftsman, so that the “joy of workmanship” exists to-day only as a rare and curious survival. The typical worker in the most technically developed industries is the machine-feeder—the man at the power-press, punching holes in a metal sheet—all exactly alike—so many per minute—all day—for hundreds of days.

Even outside the workshop, the worker’s life is a monotonous routine. Home-life and comfort is more of an ideal than a fact. Living in the ugly congested areas of the great cities, he has little opportunity for healthy exercise in the open or of invigorating contact with the glory of beauty of Nature. His poverty will not allow him any really elevating luxuries, and the continuous round of exhausting and degrading toil leaves him with neither the energy nor the desire for self-education or for artistic or scientific pursuits. His life is like a narrow groove running in a perpetual circle; habit and ignorance make him fearful of changing the groove, and even when he does so he discovers that in general all the circles open to him are very much alike. Moreover, he cannot afford to take chances—he may have a family dependent on his regular wage, and in any case the prospect of unemployment is no enviable one. Occasionally, here and there a worker kicks, succeeds in breaking the circle and achieves a precarious life of greater freedom, excitement and variety as a tramp or a criminal; but the ideal of the mass of the workers necessarily is—a permanent or “steady” job, which almost inevitably spells inescapable monotony.

But this is not all. The lives of the toilers have always been narrow, drab, and monotonous. But to the slave or the serf, and even the peasant of our own day, the world itself was a relatively small place, often not much larger than the village or district in which he lived.

To-day, however, the whole world has been knit together by commerce and communications, and the horizon of knowledge has been enormously extended to include every land and every race and nation. Modern literature opens up for the reader the whole world, and describes—if only superficially—every part of the earth, every class in society, and every period of the past. Even the penny newspaper brings us news from “the ends of the earth.”

By contrast, then, with what the imagination can offer, the real everyday life of the mass of the population to-day appears vastly meaner, duller, and narrower than ever it did in the past. The imagination has been stimulated, and a yearning for variety, beauty, colour, and excitement produced which in real life can find no outlet, no satisfaction. Hence the widespread efforts to escape from reality into the boundless world of fiction and romance, and hence the enormous consumption of romantic literature and the fascination of millions by the “movies.” Naturally, it is the adolescent and young people who are primarily affected—youth is the period of romantic visions, but there are no restrictions of age in the drawing power of the cinema. Once the habit of seeking emotional stimulus in the “movies” has become rooted, it becomes almost a necessity of existence, as anyone can discover by a few minutes’ conversation with a “movie-fiend.”

Doubtless the thirst for thrills and the desire to escape from deadening reality is as readily satisfied by the stage-drama and the novel, but the motion-picture has peculiarities that make it well fitted to be the most popular vehicle to this end. It tells its story in visual pictures instead of verbal description, it can be exceedingly vivid and convincing, and it is cheap and easily accessible. The cinema demands less mental energy than reading, requires less imagination than the drama, and calls for only a small amount of intelligence. It is therefore eminently adapted to the recreational and imaginative needs of a population starved of beauty and intellectually stunted by over-work and mal-education.

The cinema has thus become the popular entertainment of capitalism par excellence. Its development is so immense that it even threatens the regular theatre with near extinction. Its audience is the most gigantic in the world’s history. Its statistics are almost incredible. In 1920 the estimated number of picture-theatres in the United States was 17,000, and the daily attendance ten millions. The figures for the British Isles in the same year were 5,000 picture-theatres with an average daily attendance of six millions—the attendance having almost doubled in three years. As far back as 1917, the attendance for the year in the British Isles was well over one thousand millions (“Ency. Britt"., new vol. 30).

The social influence of the cinema, and its value in direct propaganda, is immense. In its indirect influence in fostering and inculcating all the mental habits and moral ideals of the bourgeoisie, in cultivating a worship of wealth and luxury, and an unthinking response to nationalist sentiment, its effect upon the minds of the workers is pernicious in the extreme, doing much to blind them to the fundamental cause of the very drudgery, degradation, and meanness of life which impels them to seek oblivion and stimulation in the glamour of the film.

We shall not here discuss the artistic level and possibilities of the cinema. It is sometimes claimed that it has a brilliant artistic future, and this may be so. One thing, however, must be insisted upon, and that is, that the admittedly low artistic standard of the majority of moving-pictures is due first to the low intellectual development of the vast masses of wage-slaves who form their audience, and secondly to the necessity of hiding from this audience the truth about social life. It is not due to the incapacity of this producer or that—the producers are business-men first and “artists” a long way afterwards, and—“what pays goes.”

In conclusion : may we hope for a healthier, more artistic, and more intelligent standard of popular entertainment in the future? The answer is plain. So long as the mass of the people have to endure arduous, monotonous toil and poverty, so long will the present widespread craving for thrills and illusion continue. Existing conditions of labour leave the average workers mentally and physically exhausted and with neither time nor inclination for intellectual or cultural development. While these conditions remain, the prevailing popular forms of diversion will be those which readily stimulate the crudest emotions by the most obvious means and make little call upon the intellect.

While, therefore, it is quite likely that, with the growing revolt against capitalism, a small but increasing section of the population will demand and receive a higher standard of recreation and of dramatic art—such a section of course exists to-day—until capitalism is destroyed, things will remain much as they are or, possibly, for a time, even become worse.

With the re-organisation of society on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, and the consequent disappearance of slavery and drudgery, will come a rebirth of the real spirit of association and conscious co-operation that capitalism has done so much to destroy. Public recreations will become again truly social, and they will be the vivid expression of the joy in life and the fellowship of free and equal men and women. A wider and nobler education will make possible the utilisation of an abundant and increasing leisure to understand and enjoy the titanic, wonderful drama of the universe in which we live. Artificial and hectic amusements and exaggerated melodrama will no longer be necessary in order to make us forget the meanness and narrowness of our lives. Only that art will flourish that genuinely represents the unfettered response of the human mind to the beauty, the wonder, and the tragedy of the Universe and Life.
R.W. Housley

(Conclusion.)